Reasons for Hope in Ossining

In the wake of George Floyd being killed by Minneapolis police on camera…

In a nation where the president advocates for police violence…

In a moment when people have been isolated for months under a state of emergency…

With unemployment and economic devastation not seen since the Great Depression…

During a pandemic that has killed over 100,000 in the US, disproportionately people of color…

Righteous anger and frustration by millions should come as no surprise. The systematic failure by so many in law enforcement to respond to protesters and people of color with basic regard for human life, is a continuation of the legacy of slavery and racism that has been with us since the founding of our country.

In Ossining where generations of leaders have worked to foster a unified community that transcends our racial and cultural diversity, maybe, just maybe, we have built a strong enough foundation of trust among each other and with the Ossining Police Department that this moment can catalyze something even better for the next generation.

photo by Liz Feldman

Yesterday a small group gathered at the Ossining waterfront. A few young people created a forum for residents to speak and to listen. It lasted two hours. Most everyone wore a mask and stood at a distance from other attendees. Chief Sylvester was one of the speakers. His message was eloquent and heartfelt. I watched some of the event on an impromptu Facebook livestream.

What impressed me most was the thoughtful, calm messages shared by students and recent graduates. Their comments were not driven by anger, though I know they are angry. They are no less angry, no less horrified, no less frustrated than protesters across the country attending peaceful gatherings that turned into violence. Thank you to Jalay Knowles and the organizers of yesterday’s event who set a clear positive tone where messages often spoke of love and community. Thank you to Chief Sylvester and OPD for matching this tone and interacting with the attendees in a thoughtful manner that supported the intention of the event.

Yesterday was one of those instances when asking forgiveness rather than permission might have been just as well. Normally events of this kind are coordinated in advance with local officials and OPD. When Chief Sylvester learned of the plan for the event, he texted me and the Town Supervisor with the minimal information he had, not long before it began. Because groups larger than ten are not allowed to gather during this time of social distancing, I feel it would have been hypocritical, even irresponsible, to attend. That said, a couple of my colleagues from Town government did, and that’s understandable.

There is no playbook for how to respond to the need for people to speak, to listen, to connect in community despite a state of emergency that clearly instructs us to stay home or at least at a distance. Tonight more folks plan to gather and continue what began last night. I’m somewhat concerned about an even larger group of people. I will hope to watch some of the speakers if an attendee livestreams on Facebook. I will hope that the beautiful intentions of Jalay and her fellow organizers, and OPD’s dedication to positive police/community relations are enough to preserve a peaceful gathering in a moment when peace is very much needed.

This is all happening against the backdrop of a pandemic where we are struggling to maintain a low rate of virus transmission so that we can continue on a path of phased reopening. When we see images of George Floyd struggling to breathe under the knees of police officers who ultimately kill him, the inconvenience of breathing through a mask seems trivial.

As we look for points of light, reasons to feel hopeful and inspired, we need look no further than our own backyard. I’ve reached out to offer village support to the leaders of this effort to continue the necessary, thoughtful and constructive conversation beyond when the national cameras become distracted by another story. Let us work together to find safe ways to feed the flame of community connections that can lead us to a better tomorrow.

COVID Poem

Three millennials walk into a bar.

And they hug.

And they kiss.

And they eat with their fingers

from a communal dish.

 

They are young.

They are healthy.

Their households are too.

They fear loss of freedom and jobs,

not this new kind of flu.

 

Church is cancelled today.

“Could we spread out through the pews?”

Pastor had mused.

He abides the request.

Staying home now is best.

 

Need a job?

Call Door Dash. They’re swamped.

Support local business! Folks plead.

Get take out, delivery,

and gift cards you don’t need!

Some do, not enough.

Making payroll is tough.

 

Work remotely online!

That sounds quaint to the laborer,

server and chef.

Will rent be paid on Albany’s dime?

When we venture back in the world,

what shops will be left?

 

The unknown is scary.

Few tests are at hand.

Slow the spread so that science

can catch the demand.

Keep grandma at home.

Birthday parties are banned.

 

Schools are shutting their doors,

though kids don’t feel sick.

Big kids learn from a screen

and then want to go play.

With parents at work

where do little kids stay?

 

Leaders try to be wise,

learning what actions matter.

So many voices and meetings

and online chatter.

What can we do

to make the curve flatter?

 

Do we lock it all down?

Mandate a ghost town?

What have we learned

from China and Rome?

How will we be changed

when we emerge from our home?

 

How long will this last?

When will social distance

be a thing of the past?

 

A century of scientific miracles.

We believed we were invincible.

 

With one crown shaped virus

Mother Nature reminds us,

it’s connection that binds us.

CoronavirusVictoria Gearity

Mayor, Village of Ossining

 

2020 Opening Remarks

Last night was our first Village Board meeting of 2020. I shared the below remarks. Click here to view the meeting video.

It’s been over a month since I publicly announced I would not seek another term as mayor. My decision is guided by the needs of my family at this time. My sons will be headed to college before I know it, and I need to help prepare for that financially. I also need to be present in their lives in a different way during adolescence than when they were little kids.

If you imagined that I would be taking it easy during this lame duck year of my service as Mayor—let me dispel you of that misconception. There is important work to do. And more than any other time during my tenure in elected office, we have a team of local and appointed officials who are ready and willing to do great things together.

The turning of the calendar to a new year often inspires reflection. When I ran for mayor in 2014, I had three key goals:

  • Improve the functionality of village government;
  • Strengthen code enforcement, particularly to address unsafe overcrowded housing; and
  • Re-image the heart of our downtown.

I am very pleased to report that we have made progress on each of these goals. Let’s review where we are, and where we are going.

We get a big check mark for improving the functionality of village government. Some of the evidence of that is seated right here. There are three positions that the BOT hires directly. Chief Sylvester, Corporation Counsel Kahan, and Manager D’Attore are a team of appointed officials who are dedicated to accomplishing their work with pride, dignity, competence, and vision worthy of the people of Ossining. It is largely because of this team’s ability to implement the big picture visions of the Board, that I am so confident in our ability to accomplish great things in 2020.

The other tremendous improvement in government function is in communication. Initiatives like weekly Open Office Hours with the Mayor, and the Monday Mayor’s Message email have been valuable tools in strengthening community connections. It’s hard to imagine that when I began as Mayor, we didn’t have a Constant Contact account. In fact, I was once told by a member of a previous village management team that we shouldn’t post on social media or email residents too often because then folks will come to expect you to communicate all the time. We have adopted a very different mindset since those days. And I want to give a shout out to Jaimie Hoffman who has been instrumental in creating our new website. Jaimie is also responsible for our new and improved Weekly WebBlast, and much of the email communication that comes from the village.

The progress we have made in our elected and appointed leadership impacts our ability to engender confidence beyond village borders. For years we have applied for grants, and all too often come up short. The grant money we sought is coming from taxes collected from residents across NYS and the US. The $3.69M we were awarded in December has come back to our community thanks to years of making the case that Ossining is a worthy and capable recipient that will make good use of funds for local infrastructure and economic development investment.

On the code enforcement front, we have made progress, but not nearly enough. Yet. When I began in elected office, village officials acknowledged only that there was “alleged” overcrowded housing in Ossining. By the time I ran for mayor and made it an issue, we were told, “Overcrowded housing is not unique to Ossining.” But there was still little action to address it. Trustee Quezada was one person who proposed recommendations for how to combat this challenge—and we have made progress in implementing them.

We have made updates to our local laws to give more tools to our code enforcement officers and building inspectors. We have hired more staff to be out in the field. This year, with the implementation of new software, I am optimistic that we will establish a landlord registry that will provide a foundation for improving our ability to enforce building codes. And we will accomplish it in a way that is not overly onerous to law abiding landlords. Manager D’Attore has also connected us with an individual who we are looking to bring to Ossining to help us turn our well-intentioned laws and policies, into effective action.

Re-imaging the heart of our downtown is the most exciting and highly visible of the goals. The tiniest grant award we received last month will be instrumental in facilitating this goal. One of the greatest obstacles to moving forward with a transformative plan for the five corners area is the need to provide parking for the businesses and residents who depend on the surface lots that resulted from the demolition of buildings during Urban Renewal over 40 years ago. A significant component of the Parking Feasibility and Planning Study will be to understand how best to create additional parking in the village lots that are bordered by Brandreth Street and Broadway, and bisected by the Aqueduct Trail. Expanding parking in this area will accommodate the current usage from the lots across the street. Shifting parking away from the surface lots will enable Ossining to reimagine the heart of our downtown, create a truly welcoming community gathering space, and restore the missing side of our Main Street.

Vic on the dais 2Lastly, I’d like to speak about the job of being a local elected official. This is my eighth year in village government. Serving as Mayor is the most fulfilling and meaningful work I’ve ever experienced. Local government does important work that impacts the daily lives of our community, and sets the stage for generations to come.

I am excited for great things to happen in 2020. I have spoken with each Trustee. We are all the same page. I predict that 2020 will be a very productive year for village government. We have all that terrific staff in place that I referenced earlier. And we have five members of this Board who are excited to accomplish good things for Ossining.

Trustee Levin, thank you for being the hardest working trustee I have ever served with. Our weekly phone call has been a good way to strengthen our ability to work as a team. In a few moments I will reappoint Rika to serve as Deputy Mayor, extending our record as the only all-female mayor/deputy mayor team in Ossining history.

Trustee Quezada, you are also beginning your eighth year in elected office. Our professional relationship definitely wins the prize for greatest evolution. It wasn’t until you left the BOT for a year in 2018, that I realized how much I had come to appreciate working with you. Since your return two years ago I have been grateful again and again for your thoughtfulness, dedication and good humor.

Trustee Fritsche, our political careers are inextricably linked. I met you when you first ran for mayor in 2011. You ran on another party line, and thankfully Manny edged out a win. The next year you made a half-hearted effort to get the Democratic endorsement. Thankfully you didn’t try harder, and I got the nod that year. Since then you have been a regular presence in village meetings, and served on our ZBA. It is fitting that my last year on the Board is your first.

Trustee Lopez, how fortunate that the New York Times chose you and your lovely wife as the subject of a story highlighting people moving out of the city. Our connection began when I reached out to you via Facebook message, and you responded by joining me on one of my Weekly Walks in 2017. You have jumped into your new community with two feet. And I’m looking forward to seeing all that you will contribute.

And most importantly, though we will not agree on every issue, all five of us recognize that our top priority as elected officials is to serve the best interests of the people of Ossining. None of us gets paid a living wage to do this work. We get a stipend. We do this job because we want to serve our community. I have experienced my whole tenure as Mayor in the Facebook age. Like any powerful force—with great power comes great responsibility. Social media can be a tremendous tool for democracy when it is used to share valuable information, connect people, and organize constructive action.

Unfortunately, social media can also foster anger, and rampant misinformation enabled by the phenomenon known as keyboard courage. Combine this with a national atmosphere of unbridled disrespect for government, and we have a culture that undermines the wellbeing of the whole community. Even in a community with residents as generous and engaged as Ossining, it is difficult to find candidates who are willing to subject themselves to the frequent nastiness on Facebook and angry in-person statements that malign and disparage the personal character of village officials.

I have two asks of you, the people of Ossining.

  • Get involved in the community off-line.
  • Treat village officials as you wish to be treated.

If you are not already serving on a village board or committee, I encourage you to visit our website and click on the “Get Involved” icon. We are announcing and voting on several appointments tonight, but there are still some openings where we need volunteers—particularly on the Ossining Arts Project and on the Landlord Tenant Relations Council where we are looking for at least one tenant representative and one person who is neither a tenant nor landlord.

I can say confidently, every member of this Board, as well as village staff, wants to do our best to serve you. So when you express you concerns, I ask that you begin with an assumption of our best intentions. In an era where keyboard courage can rouse online ire, a legitimate concern can be overshadowed by other agendas. I realize I am asking the people of Ossining to conduct themselves with greater civility and kindness than has become the norm in much of our culture. And I do so, knowing that we are up to the task. Adopting a mindset that assumes the best intention of the person you are addressing, even if they appear to be your adversary, will result in a community where more people will be willing and eager to serve in elected office.

Thank you for the opportunity to serve as your Mayor. I am excited for all that we will accomplish together in 2020.

 

 

 

A New Chapter Ahead

It is with a heart full of gratitude for the people of Ossining that I announce I will not seek a fourth term for mayor in 2020. After thoughtful consideration, I have decided that I will start a new chapter. During my time as mayor the village has become greener, stronger, better connected, more welcoming to all, and economically thriving.

In this final year of my third term as mayor, I will continue to be progressive on the environment, housing and social justice policies; conservative on taxes; and transformative on how we communicate with the people we serve.

Doing the right thing for the environment can also be the smart financial choice. Installing LED streetlights throughout the village produces six-figure savings every year for taxpayers. Further, our decision to become one of the first municipalities to opt-in to 100% green energy through community choice aggregation, expanded Ossining’s impact on transitioning from fossil fuels to renewable energy. My role as a member of the steering committee that created Sustainable Westchester, and as a board member of the Northern Westchester Energy Action Coalition before that, has kept Ossining at the forefront of energy saving programs.

I have led an innovative and comprehensive approach to economic development that honors our commitment to preserving cultural and socioeconomic diversity. The program we created to establish affordable housing units within existing buildings is the first of its kind in New York. Long before the county released the results of their recent study, village policy has been influenced by our own housing needs assessment.

My commitment to make everyone feel welcome in our community, led to Ossining’s first raising of the LGBTQ rainbow flag for pride at Village Hall, as well as becoming the first community in New York to pass a gender-neutral bathroom signage policy. As an advocate for our undocumented residents, I championed the campaign to allow all drivers to be eligible to be licensed in New York State.

Holding the line on taxes is one of the most significant ways that we can keep Ossining relatively affordable. During the budget negotiations my first year as mayor, I introduced the idea of a 0% tax rate increase. The suggestion was unheard of at the time. We weren’t yet in a fiscal position to keep it totally flat, though we came close. That mindset put us on the right path. This week we will vote to have a 0% tax rate increase for the fourth year in a row.

I have transformed village communications. Initiatives like Open Office Hours, the Monday Mayor’s Message, Weekly Walks, and our redesigned website and social media presence have been effective ways to reach the people of Ossining. I began holding Tuesday Open Office Hours my first month in office, and it has proven to be a valuable opportunity to connect with residents one-on-one. The Monday email I send has been a consistent means for letting folks know the latest happenings in village government from the convenience of their inbox.

Thank you to everyone who joined me on a Weekly Walk as I experienced every block of the village on foot. The journey was about much more than exercise, or even the personal connections with residents who took the time to tell me what their neighborhood means to them. The experience continues to serve me in decisions about how zoning and planning changes will impact residents for generations to come.

Headshot forced smileWhen I took office, my sons were in pre-k. Today they are in middle school, and college is right around the corner. I will be exploring opportunities for a job that contributes financially in a significant way for my family. Though it will be difficult to find another position as rewarding and meaningful as mayor, it is time for me to start thinking about what is next.

Serving in local elected office is personally and professionally fulfilling, and perhaps I will again some day. For now I am excited to work with a new village board, dedicated staff, and our highly engaged community for a productive 2020.

 

Seeking a Beloved Community: Ossining’s Response to Hate

“Hate, it has caused a lot of problems in the world, but has not solved one yet.”
~Dr. Maya Angelou

Ossining is still reacting to news of an incident that occurred yesterday at the high school where a swastika and the n-word were crudely scrawled on a bathroom wall. While the Ossining Police Department investigates, students, teachers, parents, and the whole community are asking, what can we do to prevent future acts of anti-semitism and racism?

We pride ourselves on being an inclusive community that celebrates diversity. In many ways we are further along the path of equity and social justice than a generation ago, or than many other communities that do not have the benefit the rich diversity that defines Ossining.

love people silhouettes letters
Photo by burak kostak on Pexels.com

Let us strip this act of its intention, and instead use it to strengthen our resolve to achieve a beloved community based on justice, equity, and love of our neighbors. Hate symbols are a call to violence and division. It is essential that we take seriously pencil marks on a wall, in order to prevent an escalation. Instead of allowing this incident to inspire greater acts of hate, let us acknowledge this incident as the latest call to action.

Just hours before the incident at OHS was discovered, I was speaking with local leaders about steps we can take as a whole community to prevent exactly this kind of anti-semitic and racist behavior. One step in the right direction would be for Albany to pass proposed Senate Bill #S6648 and Assembly Bill #A08545 which would require education about symbols of hate to be incorporated into public school curriculum. Both the Town and Village Boards have unanimously supported resolutions urging Albany legislators to pass the proposals.

Hate has no place here. Town and Village officials are committed to working closely with local organizations to extend education and programming beyond school buildings and kitchen tables. Partnering with all willing groups and individuals is essential for attaining a truly beloved community.

love people silhouettes letters

Election Day(s) & Ballot Thoughts

When are you planning to vote this year? Did you know that early voting begins this Saturday, October 26 and continues through Sunday, November 3? I recently posted this brief video spreading the good word about early voting. Ossining folks who want to vote early will go to the Joseph G. Caputo Community Center. If you want to vote on the traditional Election Day, November 5, head to your regular polling place. Click here for FAQs on the Westchester Board of Elections website.

In Ossining, even more interesting than the candidate races this year, are the ballot proposals asking us to consider changing some elected positions to become appointed positions. I generally do not publicly express my views on Town government policy making. I try to stay in my Village lane, and appreciate that my colleagues in the Town try to stay in theirs. However, I do frequently let people know how I am voting and why, and ballot proposals are no exception.

I am voting YES on the ballot proposals. Electing people to serve in administrative positions that have no legislative or policy making responsibility is a quaint throwback a time when town governments were smaller and less complex. While Ossining has been pretty lucky in our election of individuals to these positions, the community would be better served by a policy that prioritizes having experienced professionals leading departments. Click here to read a brief article summarizing the proposals and putting them in the context of similar actions taken by other towns. For greater detail about the proposals, view this video of the forum hosted by the League of Women Voters about the proposals.

All of the candidates running for Village and Town positions this year are unopposed. I don’t think this is an ideal scenario. I have persevered through hard fought campaigns, and I believe I’m a better mayor because of those races. Campaigns force a candidate to consider deeply their positions and goals, so the winner enters office on day one with a clarity of purpose. That said, if every other year an official is focused largely on a political campaign, the amount of actual governing that can take place is limited. Thanks for indulging my brief tangent on a topic worthy of thoughtful discussion in its own right. Now back to this year’s election…

Early Voting image

I’m looking forward to welcoming Bob Fritsche and Omar Lopez to the Village Board on January 1. I’m also supporting the Democratic slate in the Town—Dana Levenberg who is seeking to be reelected as Town Supervisor, and Liz Feldman and Greg Meyer as Councilmembers. Plus, I’ll cast a vote of support for Ben Leavitt, our current Town Prosecutor running unopposed for Town Judge, and Sue Donnelly running unopposed for Town Clerk.

For County Legislator, I’m supporting Catherine Borgia. She is one candidate this year who has a competitor. One other familiar name who will have my vote is Nancy Quinn Koba. Nancy is currently our Town Judge and is seeking election to become a NYS Supreme Court Justice. Click here to enter your address into the League of Women Voters site and read about all the candidates and ballot proposals.

I’m excited about early voting. I’m optimistic that it will significantly increase voter participation. With so many opportunities for occasional voters to be reminded to go to the polls on a day that’s convenient for them, we may see a significant increase in turnout. You can help! Remind your social media followers, email contacts, coworkers and neighbors to get out and vote!

 

9/11 Remarks: Let us once again be an inspiration to the world

On a beautiful Tuesday morning eighteen years ago, the world changed. Let us honor the thousands who were killed on the day of the attacks, and the thousands more who are still being killed by the lingering impacts of the toxic dust from Ground Zero. The best way to honor them is by heeding the lessons of that turning point in our nation and the world.

When I speak with my sons about 9/11, I focus on the stories of individuals, people they know and people they can connect with. We talk about how this most horrible, violent, and hateful act could inspire the most generous, loving, and heroic response.

I took my boys to the 9/11 memorial and museum a couple of years ago. We focused on the stories of the people: the people who ran into the towers; the people who lined up to help with rescue and recovery efforts; the people who lined up to donate blood in hopes that more people would be rescued; the people who died in that field in Pennsylvania, sacrificing themselves to deny the terrorists one more target to destroy that day; and we talk about Arthur Jones, the Ossining dad who never came home to his family, and how we keep his spirit alive every time we visit the park named in his memory.

I think it’s normal for all of us at any age to focus on the very best of humanity that was expressed in the wake of 9/11, rather than the worst of humanity. For a period of time eighteen years ago, we all looked at each other and saw the light and the love that courses through every living being, wherever and whoever they are in this world. And the world looked at America, and they were with us. The world was inspired by us, not because we were attacked, but because of how we as a people responded.

Eighteen years later, we have a whole generation of young people who have no living recollection of that day. They have lived their entire lives in a post 9/11 world.

9.11 ceremony
Photo by Councilwoman Liz Feldman

There are days for me, and perhaps for us all, when I feel angry and despondent that we have failed to heed the lessons of 9/11. And how could any of us not sometimes feel we have failed as a society? But living each day driven by anger and despair is no way to live. And it doesn’t take us to a better place. How can we as people lead America to a place where we are, once again, an inspiration to the rest of the world?

It is my most deeply felt hope that through gatherings like this, and by sharing stories with young people who only know of 9/11 as an historic event, that we can be part of taking America, and the world, in a better direction.

Let us refocus on the greatest lessons of 9/11. Let us foster a world where our children are inspired by the heroic acts, and the profound expressions of humanity that can unite us in a world with greater peace and empathy for people who look different, and worship differently from us.

Eighteen years ago today 19 men hijacked commercial airplanes and turned them into weapons. I say 19 men very deliberately. Let us be careful not to elevate the status of the terrorists to super villains as if they possess powers greater than any other human being. Instead, let us be inspired to acknowledge the power within each of us, and each of our children, and every person in this community, and this nation and this planet to choose love instead of hate, peace instead of violence, empathy instead of ignorance, and action instead of apathy.

This park is filled with people who love their families, their neighbors, and their community so much, they have trained themselves to run toward danger and possibly sacrifice themselves so that we can all be safer. That is exactly the kind of spirit that can inspire this generation and the next to use the power within each of us to achieve greater acts of love, peace, empathy and action.

Thank you to the Ossining and Briarcliff first responders who bring our community together every year for this moving ceremony. Let us all be inspired by the greatest versions of ourselves, the versions we expressed and witnessed eighteen years ago. Thank you for making sure we never forget.

 

 

Building Trust in a Climate of Fear

Carolyn Mackie Oss PicFostering a relationship of trust between local law enforcement and our immigrant community is critical to the safety of all Ossining residents. How do we achieve that at a time when federal immigration policy is dictated by tweets that foment fear and division?

At the Thursday, July 25, Village Board work session, we will discuss a policy regarding the Ossining Police Department’s interaction with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). It is my hope that everyone approaches this discussion with a sincere desire to work together so that we can find the best path forward for Ossining. In this climate where federal policy-making is recklessly conducted on social media, the importance of local government proactively and responsibly establishing a thoughtful policy related to interactions with ICE, is strikingly evident.

Every community must find its own best path for building trust between local law enforcement and residents. Is maintaining communication between OPD and ICE best for Ossining? Is eliminating communication with ICE better for our residents? How much do we all understand about the current practices of local law enforcement and the practices of ICE? There are a number of questions to ask that will inform responsible policy making.

Comments by residents and Village officials at the last public meeting were emotional and prompt questions that cut to the core of who we are as a country and a community.

How can we not respond emotionally to this current state of our nation where children are separated from parents for months, asylum seekers are detained in crowded cages under horrifying and inhumane conditions, and threats to round up thousands of people are a top priority of our president? These actions are not just felt by strangers in some far away place, they are felt deeply and personally right here in our village.

How does a local law enforcement agency responsibly interact with a federal agency that is guided by a president who rules with a doctrine of hate, racism and fear mongering? Is any communication by the Ossining Police Department with ICE a tacit approval of the president’s cruel and misguided immigration policy? Or does this communication actually benefit local families that are targeted by ICE?

My job as mayor, and the job of all Village officials, is to keep the people of Ossining safe, and to ensure that everyone is treated with dignity.

What is the role of the Village Board in determining the policy for how OPD engages with ICE, or any federal law enforcement agency? Establishing big picture policy for every department is the responsibility of the Village Board. And the Village Charter tasks us, as the Board of Police Commissioners, with an even greater responsibility for oversight of law enforcement than of any other Village department.

At last week’s meeting Chief Sylvester explained OPD’s current policy of maintaining communication with ICE, and having local officers observe the movements of ICE when they are in Ossining. Village Trustees and I expressed concerns and questioned the benefits and costs of this approach.

In preparation for Thursday’s discussion, officials are encouraged to seek input from local law enforcement, community organizations, and residents. Our goal is to come to a consensus on a plan forward, so that a resolution can be on the agenda at an August legislative session. Residents are encouraged to share questions and thoughts with the Village Board at bot@villageofossining.org.

I believe there is genuinely a shared goal of seeking to strengthen trust between local law enforcement and our immigrant community. Achieving that goal will only happen if we are all working together in a collaborative, not combative, manner.

 

A Progressive Solution for Affordable Housing in Ossining

An Open Letter from Mayor Victoria Gearity, Trustee Rika Levin, and Trustee Manuel Quezada

There have been many voices in the public discussion of ETPA, the NYS rent stabilization program. We have actively sought to learn from articles, workshops, stakeholder meetings, community members, and housing and land use experts. A variety of options were considered as part of this process. The option to establish a class of buildings is built into the ETPA legislation.

On Monday, February 25 (a revised date due to snow) we will be voting on a resolution that will change how ETPA applies to our community. This is a compromise solution that minimizes the greatest downsides of ETPA, while addressing the needs of Ossining residents.

What will change about ETPA in Ossining?

The resolution we are voting on this week states that ETPA will be repealed for buildings with 6-20 units. These mom and pop building owners tend to be residents in our community, and do not have the staff and attorneys needed to navigate the ETPA bureaucracy.

ETPA will continue to be in place for buildings with greater than 20 units, which represents a total of over 1,000 units. Owners of buildings with greater than 20 units may choose to join a class of buildings that is exempt from ETPA. One of the most inequitable aspects of ETPA as it was passed in Ossining on September 5, is that it is building-based, not people-based. This new progressive forward-thinking solution will allow 20% of a building to be set aside for tenants who demonstrate a financial need.

How does creating a new class of buildings minimize the financial downside of ETPA?

Some owners of large buildings may choose to continue the ETPA registration process that began last fall. These larger buildings have staff able to navigate the bureaucratic process of getting allowable rent increases for property renovations and other incentives. While over time the assessed value of these buildings will be deflated, there will likely be fewer ETPA buildings impacting the village’s overall assessed value. If half of the eligible units remain in the program, Ossining would still have more ETPA units than almost any other village or town in Westchester.

Some owners will choose to join the class of buildings that provides 20% of their units to residents who, for a family of four, earn in the range of $40,000-$58,000/year. Buildings in this class will be helping to provide affordability for a large segment of our community that struggles to meet their basic housing expenses.

How does ETPA undermine progress in upgrading substandard housing?

Smaller buildings are the ones that are most likely to be purchased by our local affordable housing nonprofit. In recent years IFCA has purchased substandard buildings and transformed them into high quality affordable units—a win-win for Ossining. If ETPA were to remain in its current form, it would undermine progress on this front.

The state regulations inherent in ETPA prevent investment in existing substandard buildings. The margins for the return on investment in ventures like these are tight, given the high price of housing and the costs associated with bringing these buildings up to code. Having the ability to control the rents that will be charged, even for apartments intended to be rented affordably, is essential for minimizing the financial risk. The intention of ETPA is not to prevent this kind of investment from happening. Unfortunately, the reality is that it does. Although ETPA allows for the exemption of buildings that undergo substantive rehabilitation, they can only be considered for an exemption from rent regulations after the project is completed. Lending agencies who finance the project cannot take that risk.  Similarly, existing owners who want to improve their buildings are not guaranteed that they will be able to cover the costs of such improvements (i.e. new, energy efficient HVAC systems).

How do we provide local support for tenants?

We recognize that not all landlords treat tenants or properties with equal regard. For any tenant who has issues and is not in an ETPA building, we encourage you to contact the Landlord Tenant Relations Council (LTRC) through the village website. This council has been strengthened in recent years to become a valuable tool in resolving landlord-tenant issues. The LTRC is also developing tools for educating tenants on their rights.

What is the next action step for economic development and housing synergy?

This week’s vote is only one step in a holistic approach to ensuring that our economic development and housing actions work in synergy. Even most ETPA advocates acknowledge that it isn’t the solution to housing affordability for an economically diverse community like ours. Next week’s Village Board work session will focus on potentially developing an under-utilized village owned property into a mixed-use mixed-income project that would provide commercial space as well as homes for families roughly earning from about $35,000/year to about $95,000/year.

We are fortunate to have the support of affordable housing experts from county and state government, as well as local and area nonprofits as we navigate this process. One of the first steps in any discussion about development is to reach out to the Ossining School District. We have had a preliminary discussion with Superintendent Sanchez about how the schools might be part of this project in a more direct way than ever before, and we’ll be meeting again soon to discuss more concrete options.

How can you be involved?

On Monday, February 25 at 7:30pm at the Joseph G. Caputo Community Center, 95 Broadway, is our legislative session when we will vote on the ETPA compromise resolution described above. There is an opportunity to speak about the ETPA resolution prior to the Village Board vote. To read the full agenda, click here.

On Wednesday, February 27 at 7:30pm at Village Hall, 16 Croton Avenue, is the work session when we will consider a potential mixed-use mixed-income development on village owned property currently used as an organic matter transfer station on Water Street. Work sessions are forums when the Village Board meets with staff and experts to get informed on potential action to be taken, and generally is not open for public comment. However, the public is invited to attend in person or to watch the meeting on television, the village website, or YouTube.

An update to the Village’s Comprehensive Plan is getting under way. To learn more about a comprehensive plan and how you might apply to be part of the Comprehensive Plan Committee, click here.V R M pic

Sincerely,

Mayor Victoria Gearity

Trustee Rika Levin

Trustee Manuel Quezada

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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